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George Mason Student Group Loses Open-Records Suit

July 6, 2018
 
 

A Virginia circuit court on Thursday ruled against a George Mason University student group seeking access to donor agreements between a university foundation and the Charles Koch Foundation. The student group, Transparent GMU, argued that agreements between the private GMU Foundation and donors should be subject to the same open-records laws as the public university itself, since it is working for George Mason’s benefit.

Judge John M. Tran wrote in his decision on behalf of the court that the GMU Foundation does not meet the legal definition of a public body, in that it is not an entity wholly or principally supported by public funds, or an entity created to perform a government function or advise the public. To treat the fund-raising foundation as a public entity requires an examination and reformulation of public policy, and that is the purview of lawmakers, not the courts, he said.

The university was previously dismissed from the lawsuit. Gus Thomson, a Transparent GMU spokesperson, expressed disappointment in the decision in a statement, saying, “We believe the public has a right to know the details of our university’s operations, including its relationship with private donors.”

The university in April released other gift agreements from 2003 to 2011 between the Koch Foundation and the campus’s Mercatus Center that, in the words of current George Mason president Angel Cabrera, “raise questions concerning donor influence in academic matters.” Transparent GMU cited those agreements in its statement, saying it plans to appeal the decision to Virginia Supreme Court.

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